Dir: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Sincere Question: During this, Pixarâ€™s Golden Age of Animation, is it somehow ungrateful to wish for an occasional decent deviation from Masterpiece after Masterpiece, in the way that Bugs Bunny and Co. served as a hellzapoppinâ€™ corrective to Disneyâ€™s dignified heft? (Despite the repeated efforts of Dreamworks, the mere presence of pop culture references and â€™70s songs on the soundtrack just doesnâ€™t scratch the itch, somehow.) Call me Looney, but the more resonant and spectacular Pixarâ€™s output becomes, the greater the risk of reducing the surface pleasures of watching drawings (or renderings or whatever) do things that real people canâ€™t.
Despicable Me would likely be enjoyable on any terms, but in the wake of the heart-wrenching Toy Story 3, its emphasis on Rube Goldbergian pratfalls and spittakes seems almost heroic. Much like last yearâ€™s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it recognizes the virtues of letting a cartoon be, well, cartoony, no matter how newfangled the technology.
Beginning with an inspired Pyramid joke, the story follows Gru (Steve Carrell), a Blofieldish super villain whose plan to steal the moon hits a snag with the emergence of a new nerdy contender (Jason Segal) to the evil throne. The ultimate character arc of the anti-hero is never really in doubt, particularly when he enlists a trio of lovable orphans in his schemes, but itâ€™s the delivery that counts, with virtually every frame festooned with sight gags both small (Gruâ€™s den features the largest assortment of mounted endangered species since Ben Gazarraâ€™s in Roadhouse) and gigantic (a sequence involving the moon and an unstable shrink ray favorably recalls Tex Averyâ€™s legendary King Size Canary). The most inspired concept proves to be Gruâ€™s henchmen, a gaggle of addled yellow blobs who collectively talk in an imitation of Butters from South Park. Inevitable merchandising glut be darned: these guys are never not funny.
The classic cartoon shorts were shorts for a reason, of course, and Despicable Meâ€™s non-stop flow of jokes does occasionally prove to be a little wearying in the back half. Hiccups aside, though, this is a welcome blast of silly string in this time of Quality Animation: a cartoon that never forgets to capitalize on its chosen mediumâ€™s knack for unreality. When the end credits begin spoofing the filmâ€™s very own 3D gimmicks, you get the feeling that the folks from Warnerâ€™s Termite Terrace would approve. And possibly drop a celebratory piano on someone.